Chances are that you consider problem gaming to be a "man's issue". But the reality is that as many as 51 percent of all South African women gamble; what's more, female problem gamblers are likely to be more severely affected by the condition.
So says Heidi Sinclair, treatment and counselling manager at the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that has been set up to promote responsible gambling in South Africa. She notes, too, that gambling addiction takes a shorter time to set in amongst female gamers than among their male counterparts.
Take Lesego**, a marketing consultant from Alexandra, for example. Lesego's started visiting casinos to escape from the twin pressures of a new job and financial stress. At first, it was fun, glamorous and exciting –- especially as she won R15,000 in one of her first plays on a slot machine. But as she took more time out for her secret habit, lying to her family about what she was doing, and digging herself into a cycle of debt, the fun started wearing off.
During the two years she grappled with her addiction to gambling, she won only R17,000 –- yet she was trapped in a cycle of emotional highs at the thrilling prospect of the win, then depression when that prospect remained unfulfilled.
Sinclair notes that, like Lesego, many female gamblers experience intense anxiety. This is typical of the condition, which is most often accompanied by other disorders. But while this may take the form of psychological issues with women, male gamblers usually often present with alcoholism or drug addiction, she says.
Sinclair adds that men are also more likely to participate in several forms of gaming, more often, and are usually willing to spend more on their gaming. In contrast, women's gambling frequently centres around activities that require little strategies, such as slot machines or bingo, and it is these activities that may trap them in a cycle of problem gambling. This may be changing, though, as more women are becoming attracted to online gambling, perceived to be safer than land-based venues.
Problem gamblers may present with a wide range of conditions, ranging from tachycardia to angina, cirrhosis and other liver diseases.
Men and women gamble for different reasons, too. While both may use gaming as a stress release, women are more likely to take this to a dangerous degree. Sinclair notes that this may explain women's extensive use of slot machines, which become an unhealthy coping mechanism to escape stress, loneliness and boredom.
"When gaming serves a psychological need like this, there is a greater likelihood that the individual will develop a problematic habit," she says, noting that gambling to earn income may also heighten the risk. Men, on the other hand, may fall into the gambling grey area when they become preoccupied with the game, or when their feelings about winning or ego distort their perception about what the health of their habit.
Sinclair observes that women's health is negatively affected by health issues associated with gambling. In general, problem gamblers may present with a wide range of conditions, ranging from tachycardia to angina, cirrhosis and other liver diseases. Added to this, females with gambling disorders are more likely to experience chronic bronchitis, fibromyalgia and migraines, along with lower general health, than women who don't have an addiction.
There is also a link between problem gambling and intimate partner violence (IPV). Although Sinclair says that the nature of this relationship has yet to be fully determined, unsteady employment and clinical anger issues, impulsiveness and alcohol and substance abuse play a role in both.
Sinclair emphasises the importance of obtaining help, whether for you or for a family member or friend. SARGF offers a free, anonymous hotline and provides eight free face-to-face counselling sessions, to equip problem gamblers with the skills they need to overcome their addiction. In severe cases, the foundation will also assist in providing a self-exclusion order.